HOLLYWOOD - It's not often a show about modern "dating" brings to mind the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, but watching Bravo's new reality series Date My Ex, which begins tonight, I found myself inexplicably flashing back to Ralph Fiennes as scholar turned disgraced contestant Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show.
No doubt this was, in part, a subconscious attempt to remain awake, to relieve the utter tedium of Date My Ex, in which Jo De La Rosa, formerly of The Real Housewives of Orange County, engages in an upscale dating game with - oh, what will they think of next?! - the aid of her ex-fiance, Slade Smiley, also formerly of Real Housewives.
Two less intriguing or more nakedly self-promoting individuals it would be difficult to find, which is, perhaps, where the Quiz Show connection comes in. As Van Doren descended into media corruption, Fiennes, his handsome face maddeningly bland, perfectly captured the birth of a new species - TV people.
Not actors, certainly not, nor producers nor writers nor any of the other creative and business types involved in the industry. But rather those individuals who, for reasons having little to do with talent or even attractiveness, become television stars at the small price of their own souls. TV people. Like De La Rosa and Smiley.
The two are infamous even among the growing circuit of people who are building careers by moving from reality show to reality show. During their stint on Real Housewives, the two not only split up, they broke many of the network's rules, doing unauthorized media appearances with the unapologetic justification that the whole point of going on one of these shows was self-promotion.
Now they're back in business, literally, running their own show, which is so artificial and calculated it might be its very own genre - a reality show that dispenses with the reality part.
The pitch: De La Rosa has moved to Los Angeles where she and Smiley have split. But they're still "good friends." Indeed, Smiley is even managing her "music career." She, poor girl, has been "working" so hard that she hasn't had time to date, so over "lunch," her "friends" Katy and Myia "decide" to start "fixing her up" and that the best person to "help" is Slade.
Seriously, this scene alone should be preserved in a time capsule. With their blown-straight hair, Cleopatra eyes and lip gloss so thick you can't help wiping your own mouth occasionally while watching, these gals are the poster children for reality chic.
"I feel like in L.A., anything is possible," De La Rosa intones, widening her eyes to denote seriousness as we imagine some poorly paid screenwriter wringing his hands - how ever did it come to this? "Anything you can dream you can do."
If only the rest of the show lived up to this inspiring standard. Instead, we're off to Smiley's bachelor pad, where Myia attempts to explain the rules of the "adventure." Four guys will bunk with Smiley while taking De La Rosa on a series of dates. At the end of Round 1, Jo will eliminate all but one who will then go on to compete with another group of men until we are down to a few finalists.
The guys who show up for the first round apparently were purchased directly from the reality dude catalog - there's a personal trainer, a real estate agent, a talent agent, a nutrition supplement salesman. The names don't really matter as the guys are there simply to provide the venues, a series of dream "dates" designed to woo the de-luscious De La Rosa.
To say it is ridiculous gives ridiculousness a bad rap. She might have a smokin' hot bod and an admirable willingness to part with her thong at a moment's notice, but a conversationalist she's not and frankly, I think anyone seeing her without all that makeup might be in for a shock. So clearly no one's looking for a relationship, or even romance. These guys are in it to win it, whatever it is.
Meanwhile, Smiley is having second thoughts about the whole thing and looking pained. Will he undercut the competition to make himself look better? Will he and De La Rosa wind up back together?
Who cares? Although it is mildly interesting to watch the reality monster consume its own tail for a few minutes, I'd frankly rather spend an hour blotting my lip gloss.
And I don't even wear lip gloss.
Mary McNamara writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Date My Ex: Jo & Slade airs at 10 tonight on Bravo.